On New Year’s Eve from 2020 to 2021, Luis García Montero skipped the curfew, sneaked into the hospital where his wife, Almudena Grandes, was convalescing from her recent gynecological cancer operation and, together and alone, they drank the grapes with the bells of the TV. “Seen today, it was the happiest New Year’s Eve of my life,” says the day we see each other, the eve of the end of the year 2021, the now widower. We are in the huge room under the impressive dome of the Instituto Cervantes in Madrid. Outside, the sun is setting over the Plaza de La Cibeles, Calle de Alcalá is bustling with people who want to see the Christmas lights and the retreat sounds in the magnificent gardens of the adjoining Army Headquarters. Inside, a deep and friendly atmosphere permeates everything.
I accompany him in the feeling.
Thank you. The feeling of others accompanies, and I have had the feeling that the one caused by Almudena’s death was a sincere feeling. Not a convention. And that has helped the family to feel accompanied and, also, to make sense of things. In the atmosphere of hostility and tension, we forget that there is a real society outside the networks that is not mired by things or angry with the world. It seems to me that Almudena, beyond the political tensions that her novels raised, tried to get to the bottom of the human condition, beyond ideologies. And I think that’s what people recognized in her.
Does whoever wants to or who can offend? Did the absence of institutional condolences from the mayor and president of Madrid bother you?
I like that it says “institutional”. Personally I did not miss anyone, Institutionally, yes. I have friends from the Popular Party. Marta Rivera de la Cruz, Minister of Culture, was there. I did not miss the PP because with Almudena and with me he has little relationship. Much less to Vox. I have appreciated the gesture of the City Council when it has had it and I missed it when it did not.
Your wife died at the age of 61, are you pissed off at the world?
All the culture that goes with you awaits you here.
No, that would mean wanting the same for everyone. I am more in favor of transmitting hope when talking about cancer. We have had such bad luck, but today, well taken care of by health, there are many people who get ahead.
Did she know she was going to die?
We were optimistic almost to the end. We believed for a long time that he was going to get over it. After the New Year’s Eve operation and chemotherapy, in a check-up in June the disease came back. When we started to see that things were turning into a dead end, it was in August. She took the disease with the same discipline with which she wrote. There was in his attitude towards cancer that spirit of hope and resistance. It was in October and November that we started talking about a future without her.
How do you talk about death with someone who is going to die?
There is a complicity of silences there. When she was hopeful, I knew she had doubts. When I was hopeful, she knew that I had doubts. There was a time when we put them together to talk about how to tie up the loose ends.
How were those days?
Look, I was thinking about a conversation I had with the poet Joan Margarit, when he already knew that he was going to die and called me to say goodbye. He had hidden himself, like an animal looking for a place to die in the forest, and he was left there alone with his loved ones, his feelings and his own life. He told me “Luis, believe me they have been the happiest days of my life.” I have remembered a lot about that now. Anyone who accompanies a patient of these characteristics knows the hard times that happen, but now, in my memory, the last days taking care of Almudena have been the happiest of my life. That was where everything came to fruition. Our books, our dedications, our militancy, our children, our trips, all of these were ways of taking care of ourselves. And all that was clear in those days that are hard while they are lived, but later they are an unforgettable memory that gives meaning to our lives.
Are you a believer?
No. When I was wondering about death, these days I have remembered a book by CS Lewis called A shame on observation. The metaphysical and theological part of the duel, I already knew that I was not going to feel it. For him, and for me, death is more of a domestic animal that you live with, but that does a lot of damage. I don’t ask myself why. I wonder about this pain of seeing a single towel in the bathroom, of not seeing her sitting at the computer, of sitting down to watch a series and find that the TV is talking and is not telling you anything, because it seems that the sofa where we were watching the TV is a kind of boat adrift and now it has no course. Those things so domestic, so little grandiloquent, mark this first moment of loss. I hope that this becomes a grieving process and that life can take on meaning again and the absence is integrated into a new way of being in the present.
These days rivers of honey have flowed in the media about their love story. They never had fights?
And that neither of us were supporters of kitsch. In my poems and some of his texts there are reflections on the difficulties of living together. But the truth is that we have lived a history of great complicity. With the normal differences of opinion about the children, the quartermaster, the daily life. We never live in situations that put our love in doubt. But we both always recognized that love is not a fairy tale, it has its contradictions.
Because she was unassailable, but also stubborn, or it seemed.
She was bribable for things that had to do with friendship or affection. He presented books that he did not like. He went to dinners that he didn’t feel like, as long as they were with friends. But when it comes to his public and political attitudes, it was always clear to him which side he should be on. Maybe you are wrong, but he was always on the side of the weak before that of the powerful.
What was life like for two legitimately ambitious writers with their work? Did they spur each other when they wrote?
I am a poet. Almudena, novelist. Poets have assumed that, no matter how successful we are, we are not going to be a bestseller. She was successful from the start. So much so that she had to choose between being famous or a writer, and that’s when my admiration for her also began … What was not between us is any kind of celera, the rivalry didn’t make any sense. In my life it occurred to me to try to compete or to get nervous because she sold 100,000 copies of a novel and I 15,000 of a poetry book. It has been said a lot that love requires admiration, and I agree. I really admired Almudena and her literature. And I always felt sheltered and admired by her. We always commented that it was lucky to live two writers together. Do you know that you are eating and not talking because you have your head in your book? We understood that perfectly from each other.
His children have lost their mother. Who comforts whom?
They pamper me, they treat me like the old widower who needs to be cared for and I try to be well and whole for them. She claimed joy. His absence has to unite us.
What is the worst time of day?
Maybe the night, when I go to bed, and I go to bed and I am alone with myself. I have a hard time concentrating on a book. Suddenly, you get a message from a son, or from my parents, or from a friend, with a photo, a link, an obituary for Almudena, and one gets emotional. In this observed grief I was talking about, you analyze your pain to get hold of it. But, look, my parents live. My father is 95 years old and well, but he needs help with almost everything. You also recognize the luck of being able to enjoy your father and mother at the age of 63. Worse is who dies at 40. Almudena lost hers in her twenties and did not see her grow old. Seeing the physical deterioration is the bill you have to pay to enjoy life for 63 years, as I have enjoyed it, and I suppose that with love it is the same.
Are you afraid of becoming known as the widower of Spain and not as the poet laureate?
I am a widower, and, at 63, I am old enough to be. In Galdós’s books he would have been an old man. I have been writing for 40 years and I am not afraid of being a widower, I have my poetry. But it has been 30 years of love shared with Almudena, I am a widower in love and I am excited to be related to her, because she is in my work, and I in hers.
Will there be some of his verses on the death of his wife?
Undoubtedly. Creation always has life as its subject, and such a strong experience will pay off. Throughout Almudena’s illness I have written some poems, and after her death, a couple of them as well. I suppose that after a while I will correct him and perhaps close the duel. But later there are things that are part of the memory and will always be there. In everything that I always write, Almudena will be present.
The poet Luis García Montero (Granada, 63 years old) wanted his work Completely friday He will accompany his wife forever, the novelist Almudena Grandes. That is why she threw a copy at her grave in the Madrid Civil Cemetery, where she was buried after her death on November 27, 2021, among a multitude of readers, politicians and family friends who raised books by Grandes as a last tribute to the writer. The title of García Montero’s book was a nod to I will call you friday, the novel where Almudena glossed the love story of both and that she did not enjoy, like the first, The ages of Lulu, of the approval of the critic. A month after the death of his wife, García Montero, director of the Cervantes Institute, endures the grief “working” and writing a poem that, in time, may turn into a book in his memory.